GHF won a Global Vision Award in 2012 for its efforts to preserve the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of China’s Pingyao Ancient City. Photo: Jonas Merian
This week, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Dr. Vince Michael, GHF’s Chief Conservation Officer, explored some of the key issues facing heritage conservationists. The article, titled “Cultural Authenticity in the 21st Century,” touches a number of bases, from evolving definitions of the term “authenticity” with regards to preservation, to the disturbing number of endangered cultural heritage sites across the world, to the need for a better understanding of “heritage economics” in order to drive investment in these sites.
In his opening, Dr. Michael recalls last May’s Forum on Global Heritage in a Developing World: Focus on Asia, where he was struck by these words from Chinese economist Yan Zhang: “Authenticity should not be static. It should be dynamic and evolving.” Dr. Michael contrasts Yan’s definition with the rather scientific one traditionally employed by heritage conservationists, arguing that “Yan’s words more accurately portray authenticity as a moving target.”
“For over a decade, I’ve watched heritage preservation evolve in two major ways,” Dr. Michael writes. “First, there was the shift from purely archaeological and architectural monuments to an increased emphasis on intangible heritage: folkways, languages, music, arts, costume, ritual and other traditions. Second, we are now recognizing heritage preservation as not just a series of international curation standards, but a dynamic process whereby a community determines which elements of its past should be carried into the future.”
Since 2003, Dr. Vince Michael has been involved with the Weishan Heritage Valley, a project to preserve the historic Southern Silk Road town of Weishan, China. Photo: Vince Michael
Along with giving historical background, Dr. Michael writes about his experience working with the Weishan Heritage Valley, where a major emphasis was placed on preserving ancient music and folk traditions. He also uses GHF projects as examples to illustrate the value of Preservation By Design®, a holistic methodology that combines conservation science, master planning, partnerships and community development to make heritage preservation a fulcrum for poverty alleviation, economic development and long-term sustainability.
As readers of his excellent blog Time Tells are well aware, Dr. Michael’s thoughts on heritage preservation delve deep into the dilemmas facing heritage preservationists in the 21st century. He is as honest as he is passionate when it comes to considering solutions, and his op-ed is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the world’s vanishing cultural heritage sites.
Click here to read “Cultural Authenticity in the 21st Century” on Huffington Post